Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Set Back

Blade's pole splitting project.
After working with Blade last week to overcome his bit-aversion problem, I kind of forgot about it.  I assigned him to a student thinking his problems were over.  Wrong again.  When Blade saw the student walking toward him with a bridle, he set back against the post.  The post he was tied to was probably about 40 years old. The center of it was rotted out and when Blade panicked and pulled back, he pulled the side of the post off like a banana peal.  The chunk of post was still attached to him by the lead rope and he was trying to get away from it when I moved over to help.  He calmed down when he saw me, so I was able to stand on the wood-chunk and untie the lead rope.  I took him over to another post and loose-tied him.  I put the bridle over his head and he accepted the bit without incident.  I had just assumed that when I was able to bridle him, that anyone could.  I still do not understand what the problem is.  It isn't just the bit that bothers him, it is the combination of the bit and someone he doesn't know trying to put it on him. Another mystery and another problem to solve.  No one ever said my job was boring. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Bit Refusal

Blade in happier times.
While prepping for the riding school last night, I noticed one of the students having trouble getting Blade to take the bit.  I went over to help and found that I was having the same problem.  Blade was clamping his teeth shut, pursing his lips, and throwing his head around to avoid the bit.  I took him to the arena and tried again without tying him.  Still no luck.  When he refused, I planned to lunge him off his lead line, but he would just pivot toward me instead of running around me.  Realizing that I was getting no where, I took him back to the tie up post and tried again.  I checked his mouth and teeth to make sure there were no problems in there and found nothing.  As I was about to give up, he suddenly parted his teeth enough for me to pull the bridle on.  He was fine once it was on.  I decided that I'd need to work on it again the next day.
Today, when I tried again, I had the same problem.  Blade would keep his teeth clamped shut and when I tried to insert my thumb into his mouth, he'd lift his head to prevent me from opening his mouth.  I became increasingly angry and started smacking him on the shoulder and yelling at him.  Realizing that I was losing it, I tied him up short and went and tended to the other horses for a while until I could calm down.  On my way back to him, I grabbed a pocket full of horse treats, and went back to work.  He still refused to take the bit, but I held a cookie in front of it, so he tried to snake his tongue around the bit to get at it.  We continued this game for a while, then I put the cookie back into my pocket.  Without losing my temper, I continued to hold the bit in front of his teeth and rubbed the side of his mouth with my thumb.  Eventually, he unclenched his teeth and I was able to get the bit in.  I praised him, gave him the cookie he desired and then slid the bridle off.  We repeated this cycle five times until he would take the bit without much hesitation.  I then let him graze on the grass for five minutes and then put him in his pen for dinner.  I will try again tomorrow, but I will try to keep him out of the riding school until I'm sure he's over whatever was bothering him. 
There is no telling what causes a horse to suddenly have a problem like that.  Could be that someone accidentally hit him in the teeth while putting bridle on, or there was something nasty tasting on the bit, or something totally unrelated.  The lesson I learned was that I had to keep my temper in check while trying to overcome Blade's phobia about the bit.  I spent about thirty minutes trying to solve this problem today, but hopefully, it won't take as long tomorrow. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Military Style Riding

Our Saturday makeup session turned out to be somewhat of a marathon.  Training began at 0800, but it took the students 90 minutes to put their saddles on.  That is okay, at first, as you want to make sure everyone knows what to do.  Sometimes the quickest way to move a herd, is slowly. 
After we finally got into the arena, we practiced column movements to get the students used to moving from a single file to a column of twos and back again. We also practiced "left to a line" and "right to a line" from a column.  The students were having a little more luck with their horses, this time, as their self confidence and understanding of cues improved. 
Unfortunately, while practicing column movements, Cochise kicked Charlie in the right leg.  The kick landed on the inside of his upper leg, near the stifle joint.  Charlie was limping, so I turned the class over to the other instructor so I could tend to Charlie.  I asked the other instructor to have the students remove their saddles and try bareback for a while.
I didn't see much of the rest of the lesson, other than a quick peak while they were trying to mount bareback.  That is always a funny scene.  I can't jump as high as I once did, but some people can't jump at all.  From a distance it looked like some of them weren't able to jump higher than about two inches.  Some, however, were able to get up without too much trouble.  Eventually, everyone got aboard with a little assistance from the instructor. 
The training went on for about four hours altogether with about two hours of that spent on horseback.  The training was good and the weather was good. The students seem to be really getting into it. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Cavalry Riding School Rides Again

Trying to keep warm bodies in our horse detachment seems to get harder and harder each year.  We try to hold one riding school a year to keep our numbers up, but this year things have gotten so bad that we had to schedule a second riding school.  Fortunately, we got six recruits this time, which gives us a chance of filling some holes in the roster.  Unfortunately, summertime is the worst time of year to have a riding school here because of the daily thunderstorms.  We have had four riding sessions scheduled the last couple of weeks on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and two of them were rained out. 
The first session was what we call "ground school," where we teach the students how to groom and care for their horse and how to maintain their tack.  The second session was supposed to be about how to put the tack on the horse and what the basic military commands are for riding.  However, we had a really intense rain storm just before the class which soaked all the horses, so we were limited to marching around in the mud on foot.  We were able to teach the basic commands and column movements, but it's just not the same without an obstinate, misbehaving horse beneath you. 
Our third session was supposed to be mounted column movements, but this session was completely rained out, so we had to delay that training until the fourth session and then added another session on Saturday.  So, the first night of riding did not occur until the fourth session, when finally, we got a break in the weather. 
In the fourth session, we spent a great deal of time on how to place the tack properly, with extra emphasis on saddle placement.  There is a tendency for new riders to place the saddle too far forward, where it interferes with the movement of the horse's shoulder.  This, in turn, causes the saddle to sit high in front, distorting the rider's seat and causing the horse's back to get sore.  We also go over the differences in the behavior of each of the horses during grooming; the horse that doesn't like the bit, the cinchy horse, the horse that sets back, the horse that stomps his feet down, the head-shy horse, etc.  Since the students are issued a different horse each time, they soon learn all the specific techniques for handling and tacking up each horse in the herd.
After we finally got saddles on all the horses, we put the students in the practice arena and practiced mounting and dismounting in the military fashion.  Fortunately, all the students in this class are in reasonably good shape and were able to get on and off their horses without any serious problems.  We then had them practice side-passing and backing up.   This part was a little more amusing as the horses, realizing they had newbies on their backs, were pretty much doing everything but what they were supposed to be doing.  But, this is part of the horse's job.  If the horses were perfectly behaved, the students would learn nothing.  The horses teach the students to get their cues right and to be confident in what they're doing.  You can tell by the expression on the faces of the horses and the occasional, exasperated sigh, that they know they are dealing with new riders.  It is amazing to see. 
All in all, the first riding session went well.  The second one went even better, but I'll discuss that in my next post. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Wonder Horse Rides Again

I haven't been able to ride in ceremonies much in recent months due to the sequester/furlough business.  However, I did loan out Apache for a ceremony last month that apparently went fairly well.  His rider gushed about how well he behaved and, indeed, from what I saw in the video, he was able to complete a charge without losing control.  Encouraged by this, I decided to ride him myself today in a ceremony on Brown parade field. 
How easily I fall into Apache's trap. 
We were short riders for the ceremony, so I sucked it up and adjusted my work hours so I could do the ceremony and still handle the start of a new riding school tonight.  No doubt, I will pay for this later.  I had to be in to feed the horses at 0430 as the ceremony as at 0730.  It was still dark and, of course, raining when I arrived at the stables.  Fortunately, it did not rain hard and the lightning stopped about sunrise. 
There were only four of us for the ceremony, which was okay since there was only us and the honor guard on the field.  Apache was calm until we formed up on the field and then he began his pawing activity.  He'd paw with one hoof, I'd correct him with the reins, and then he'd shift to the other hoof.  This went on for the entire ceremony including the won't-this-guy-ever-wrap-this-up speech by the outgoing commander.  I think this gentlemen thanked everybody in his command including the janitorial staff.  Apache marked the time by happily scraping about ten square yards of turf off the field while we stood there. 
Mercifully, the ceremony finally ended and we moved down the field to do our charge.  Apache was pretty good during this.  No spinning or rearing or crow hopping.  That all changed when we did a left flank and began the charge.  Apache and I were part of the skirmish line for only a moment.  I discharged all my pistol rounds as quickly as I could as I could feel Apache winding up beneath me.  I briefly though of re-holstering my pistol so I could use both hands on the reins, but quickly realized there was no time for that.  The Wonder Horse was moving at warp speed.  I grabbed reins with both hands even though I still had a pistol in one of them.  I leaned on the reins with all my strength and weight with no effect.  In fact, I think he was still accelerating. 
At the end of the parade field is a gazebo and some trees.  The horses always veer away from the gazebo and stop to the left of it where the trees are.  Apache sped toward the trees and I started to get a little concerned.  I began rocking the curb bit against the roof of his mouth to get his attention and felt the slightest little change in power that indicated I might survive yet another Apache-bolt.  As he galumphed down to a reasonable speed, I began to relax slightly and brought him to a stop about five feet from the end of the parade field. 
We were both breathing hard as we rejoined the rest of the riders, but neither of us was injured.  My thigh muscles were still shaking with the strain of stopping Apache as we rode back down to the ceremony to pose for photos.  As soon as we stopped, Apache began pawing again, of course.  He put up with standing there for a little while, but soon began to give the telltale signs of a pending horse blow up.  I suggested we depart the field while we I was still on him.  We left in the nick of time. 
I think it is important to ride Apache in a ceremony once in a while to remind myself why I don't like to ride him in ceremonies.  I wonder how he will do in the riding school. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Snake Bit Horse

I woke up early today, about 6 AM, and was just sitting down to read the paper while the coffee brewed, when the Bat Phone went off.  It was the trooper with weekend pasture feed calling to tell me that Big Cal had a bloody nose.  He also related that Cal's nose was swollen and he could hear him breathing.  I told him I'd be there as soon as I could. 
Cal showing off his nose tube harness and his swollen upper lip.
I woke up Debbie and told her we had a possible snake bite and then we both scrambled to get underway as quickly as we could.  When we arrived, one look confirmed that Cal had been tagged on the nose by a rattler.  His muzzle was huge and he was struggling to breath.  We had been trying to contact the vet as we drove to the stables, but with no luck.  When I got to the office, I called the on-call vet tech, who promptly answered.  She said she'd be down as soon as she could, but the mil vet was out of town and she was told not to call the other mil vet because she was on profile for her own medical problems.  Unfortunately, the only other option we had was our private practice vet, but she was out of town on vacation.  Thus, we had to call the mil vet with medical problems, who was overjoyed that we had called her. 
The vet tech arrived first and administered a sedative and a drug to reduce the swelling.  Cal calmed down enough so we could try and insert a section of garden hose up his nose to keep his nasal passage open before the swelling squeezed it off.  Unfortunately, the swelling was too advanced and we could not get the hose in.  There was only a tiny passage left open and we had nothing small enough to get through. 
The tube can be seen in his left nostril.  Poor horse.
At this point, I drove back into town to the hardware store to try and find something that we could use to get past the swelling.  Quickly scanning through all the possibilities in the plumbing section, I found some tubes used on swamp coolers to drip water onto the membranes.  They were narrow enough, yet strong and slightly flexible.  I grabbed a package of tubes and a rasp to smooth up the ends, and sped back to the stables. 
Fortunately, in my absence, the mil vet showed up and squirted epinephrine up his nostril which opened up the nasal passage long enough for us to get the regular sized tube up his nose.  It was good thinking and likely saved Cal's life.  We have him at the ZERF now, where we can keep a close watch on him, but he will probably be okay as long as the tube stays put.  It will require hourly checks throughout the night and I will have to rig up a work light in his stall to we can verify that he is still okay.  Hopefully, in a day or two, we can remove the tube.  Damned snakes.